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The First Choice...No The Only Choice
First Group Buses
Member Name: sandemp
First Group Buses
Date: 08/01/05, updated on 25/08/11 (6468 review reads)
Advantages: Disabled/buggy friendly buses
Where I live, Basildon, we don't have a lot of choice of which bus company we use. We either use First or we walk. True, there are couple of independent companies, but they run just one route, and it's not one I ever use. So much for de-regulation increasing quality and introducing competition. So now you know why I use First buses, maybe you want to know what I think about them.
First covers pretty much the whole of the Basildon area, with one notable exception. We have a large, out of town Leisure park, which contains the town's only cinema, but there are no buses to serve it !!! Which means that my family can't go to the pictures, as we don't have a car.
There are, however, buses from Basildon to Southend, Lakeside and Chelmsford, so we're not entirely isolated from the rest of the world.
All other information in this review will be based on my experience with the route I use the majority of the time....that is the Number 5.
I find the fares extremely high, a ten minutes journey from Pitsea (where I live) to Basildon (the town centre) costs £2.40 return. To travel just one stop costs 70p !!!
This is mainly due to the fact that First introduced fare zones (much like London), but as Basildon is a great deal smaller than London, you can find a fare zone literally contains three stops.
There are cheaper options if you use the bus regularly (as I do) :
One is a "Day Ranger" which costs £2.50 for as many journeys as you like within the Basildon area.
Another is a "weekly ranger", which comes in two forms, an Inner costing £10 allowing as many journeys as you like within the Basildon area for one week, and an Outer costing £13 which also allows journeys as far as Lakeside.
There are also monthly options, but I'm not sure how much they cost.
Child fares are approximately 2/3 of adult fare, and are available for children between the ages of 5 and 14. Over 14 and you're counted as an adult, unless you buy a proof of Age card for £1. Up to two children under the age of five can travel with each fare paying ADULT for free.
Within the last few years the majority of the rolling stock has been upgraded to disabled/buggy friendly single deckers. These feature, hydraulic ramps and room for upto two unfolded buggies or wheelchairs. These are a fantastic feature, especially for me as my youngest boy is in a McLaren Major (A special needs buggy), it means most times I can take him on the bus without difficulty. However, although these buses are relatively new, they are already quite grubby and have been vandalised. There's one bus in particular with loose seats that haven't been replaced in over six months.
There are also a number of old style buses, which are uncomfortable, dirty and impossible for me to use with my son. It seems we get these in busy periods and more often than another popular route.
Most of the drivers are friendly, smart and courteous. As, more often or not, the driver will always be on the same route, they've had a chance to get to know you, and will often ask how things are going.
However, there are some drivers that are brought in occasionally, and it's these I've had problems with. Two instances of the rudeness are as follows :
1. A driver shut my disabled son's leg in the door, and started to drive off. My son is not the most able walker and it takes him a good deal of time to get on and off of buses, but the driver, whether due to impatience or carelessness (probably a mix of the two), did not check that he'd actually alighted, shut the doors and started to drive off. He only stopped because the other passengers shouted at him.
2. A driver threw my husband and son off the bus, because my son was screaming. As I've said before my son is in a special needs buggy and it's obvious that he's disabled. But obviously that particular driver had been having a bad day.
On both these occasions several other passengers complained at the depot as well as us.
It's a standing joke amongst the users of the Number 5 route, that the buses are anything but reliable. The buses are supposed to arrive every ten minutes, but the longest I've waited is well over an hour. If the buses are running late, they will often return "dead", that is not pick any passengers up, so as to make up the time. This results in the next bus being very crowded.
My feelings on this are unprintable, but go down the lines of "why bother publishing a timetable, if you never stick to it?". We also seem to suffer with a greater than average number of cancelled buses, mainly due to the lack of drivers. Again, when compared to another route, we lose a lot more buses.
On the two occasions I've made complaints, the customer service has been excellent. On both occasions, as well being spoken to in person, I have received letters of apology, and I know that action was taken against the drivers.
Most of the time the other passengers are friendly enough, but at school home time, the buses are a nightmare, and I would advise you avoid using them between 3.30 and 4pm.
One thing that does annoy me however, are the people that don't realise that the wheelchair/buggy spaces are there not for their shopping trolleys but for wheelchairs or buggies. I've had comments, like "I'm old I need to sit at the front", which is fine sit at the front, but my son is disabled, and the space is designed for his chair, not your shopping.
As I've said before, First has no competition in this area, and maybe this is the reason our service is so expensive and unreliable. After all, it's not like we can just use another company, we're stuck with what we've got. On another route, there is also a small independent company running buses, which although tiny are always packed. This route does not seem to suffer the same unreliability we do, and I assume it's because it has direct competition.
There has been one occasion of outstanding service when using a First bus (although a different route). My son had a seizure on the bus, and as we were two stops from the hospital the driver missed these stops and took us straight to the hospital, before retracing his route to pick up other passengers.
Although the buses are reasonably comfortable, reliability remains such an issue, that if there were any competition, I would say don't use First. However, as I have no such option, I continue to use them albeit at times grudgingly. I have ticked the recommend product box for the simple reason, that the only alternative is taxis, which would work out exceedingly expensive.
Summary: What happens when competition is wiped out
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